What’s in a Word?

 

Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity.
Yehuda Berg

Words and language are fascinating to me. I remember as a child feeling very smug about the British slang words I learned from reading Enid Blyton books, and how funny it was to me that my name sounded the same as the word for truck in the “Famous Five” books. That fascination has stayed with me as an adult, as I’ve seen the way we communicate evolve from rotary phones to Facetime. Some things haven’t changed all that much, though. Words still have the power to transform the world.

Humans on an individual level experience changes in language as a part of growing up, as we can see by the way babies  start out using babble and nonsense sounds as all-purpose tools to convey their needs and wants. Reading, talking and singing to babies is an integral part of developing language skills that will eventually lead to the use of words.

 

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Wordless picture books are a wonderful means to assist in language learning, as the story is told literally in the words of whoever is looking at the book.

 

 

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A fun twist on this format is the picture-less picture book, where the story strings together silly sentences to create a series of visual images that will be different for everyone who reads or listens to the book.

 

 

The effect that comic books and graphic novels have had on language is also interesting. While these formats primarily use images to tell a story, they have also  introduced some of the most enduring catchphrases in recent history.

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane….

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With great power comes great…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

William Shakespeare gave the world timeless images in his plays and poetry still influencing us today, but he also created many new words that are still in use. Where would we be without words like amazement, luggage and puking? I wonder what the audience thought upon first encountering these words, and if the reaction was much the same as we’re experiencing with the widespread use of abbreviations in text messages.

 

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Using abbreviations in texts has created a new form of language, one that requires a certain skill set to negotiate successfully. At first glance it would seem that this style of communication is purely utilitarian and very basic, but like any language there is nuance and a certain set of rules to follow in order to get your meaning across.

 

 

The widespread use of emojis and emoticons has also influenced our language. Some see this as evidence that people are losing the ability to use language, or that people are lazy and in too much of a hurry to write things out properly. However, just as new words are being continously added to language, other words drop out of use. When was the last time you asked for a “firkin” of something?

 

It’s something of a chicken or egg question as to whether transformations in language lead to changes in society or that changes in society lead to changes in language. In the end, it’s all about communication, whether you use archaic English on parchment, a microprocessor, or a string of emoticons on your smartphone. Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.

-Lori

 

 

 

 

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